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The Panama Canal: A Triumph of American Medicine

An Online Exhibit Clendening History of Medicine Library and Museum

The opening of the Panama Canal to world commerce on August 15, 1914, represents one of the world's greatest engineering feats. This could not have been accomplished without the important contribution of American medicine in the sanitation of Panama and the control of tropical diseases. William Gorgas, Chief Sanitary Officer, eliminated yellow fever and controlled malaria by implementing rigorous mosquito-control measures.  Both clinical and research activities were centered in Ancon Hospital, where dedicated doctors and nurses ministered to the sick. The combined efforts of engineers, doctors and mainly West Indian workers, made possible the completion of the Panama Canal.

In 2015, the centennial of the opening of the Panama Canal was celebrated at The University of Kansas Medical Center Clendening History of Medicine Library and Museum with an exhibit, "A Triumph of American Medicine: William Gorgas, Ancon Hospital and the Panama Canal," curated by Nancy Hulston, Dawn McInnis and Enrique Chaves. With the assistance of Alex Welborn, Karen Chinn and Jesse Hall, an online exhibit is presented using images and text from the Clendening exhibit. The main themes developed are focused on the individuals responsible for the sanitation of the isthmus, the hospital and laboratories supporting the effort, malaria, yellow fever and other tropical diseases in Panama, and the important role of West Indian labor in the construction of the canal, including the racial discrimination that pervaded among non-white workers.

Last modified: Mar 12, 2019